More than 1,000 gather to honor Pittsburgh shooting victims, support Jewish community

The local community gathered for a vigil to honor the 11 lives lost in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. The ceremony concluded with the lighting of a candle for each victim.

For a room filled with more than 1,000 people, it was, at times, incredibly silent.

The community vigil for victims of America’s most recent hate-filled tragedy drew crowds of people from all races, religions, lifestyles and backgrounds. It seemed all of Kansas City had gathered Monday evening at Kehilath Israel Synagogue.

They came to honor the 11 people who were shot and killed Saturday morning while attending a religious ceremony at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They came to write notes of encouragement, prayer and support for the victims’ families and fellow synagogue members.

And they came to draw strength from each other, as faith and civic leaders spoke out against hate and reckless bigotry toward groups of people who may think or look differently. Speakers included faith leaders from Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, as well as Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri’s 5th Congressional District and Rodney Williams, president of the Kansas City branch of the NAACP.

“The only way through this is together, and all of you are present tonight to show solidarity to the Jewish community,” said Gavriela Geller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/AJC (American Jewish Committee). “We know that we have the same obligation to those who ask for our solidarity and support, because when one minority is threatened, we are all threatened.”

Helen Lotman (left) of the Jewish Federation, and Gavriela Geller of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau, said the community would not let hate diminish its faith.

Helene Lotman, president and chief executive officer of Jewish Federation, said several communities across the country are planning to attend services and pray together with their Jewish neighbors at local synagogues out of support for both the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Jewish community as a whole.

“The shooter in Pittsburgh violated our holy day,” Lotman said, “but we will not let him diminish the beauty of our Sabbath.”

At times, it seemed the whole room reverberated in anger at the unjust, senseless violence. People often rose to their feet with heavy applause as speakers urged one another to be strong and continue to show love and support.

Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Mo., spoke to the crowd.

Cleaver spoke out against all of the reckless hate-filled violence that had occurred this past weekend, including two black people who were shot and killed in Louisville, Kentucky.

“There is, according to the preacher also known as Ecclesiastes, a time to keep silent; but my friends, this ain’t it,” Cleaver said. “When wrong is attacking people simply on the basis of their faith, or simply on the basis of their skin color, the people of goodwill must stand up and say it’s time to speak up, it’s time to stop, it’s time to stand up. We will not sit down, we will not shut up, we will stand up, we will speak up and we will lift up.”

Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection said thoughts and prayers are important, but he wanted to urge everyone to speak up when they see that their fellow human beings aren’t being treated right.

Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood implored people to counter hate when they saw it in their own lives.

“I wonder, at times, how long people will remain silent while friends, neighbors or family members speak ill of those who are different faiths, ethnic, racial or social groups,” Hamilton said. “How long will we entertain conspiracy theories or give way in our hearts to assuming the absurd about the other? How long will the rhetoric of our leaders fuel fires of suspicion in our hearts? How long will we listen to voices who lead us to be our worst selves instead of our best selves?”

Akhtar Chaudry of the Muslim Jewish Advisory Council said the community is united in grief but must gather strength from each other. And, ultimately, any attack on the Jewish faith is an attack on all faiths, he added.

“Your pain, your sorrow and your tragedy is ours,” Chaudry said. “Anti-Semitism was wrong 2,000 years back; it’s wrong today. There’s no place in our society, or any society, for anti-Semitism. It belongs in the dustbin of history.”